According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), more than 12% of the United States population will develop a thyroid disorder in their lifetime, joining the estimated 20 million Americans who already have a thyroid condition. These numbers are staggering, but perhaps more concerning is the undertreatment of individuals with thyroid disorders.
The ATA estimates that 60% of people with thyroid dysfunction are unaware of their condition. It is critical for your health to understand the signs of thyroid dysfunction and know when to seek a thyroid specialist, like those at Associated Endocrinologists.
What is the Thyroid?
The thyroid, a gland at the front of the neck, is an integral part of the endocrine system. Its primary function is the production and secretion of hormones, thyroxine (called T4) and triiodothyronine (called T3). These hormones control metabolism, digestion, brain development, and bone maintenance.
Most Common Thyroid Issues
The thyroid plays a vital role in the proper functioning of the body’s systems, and even small levels of thyroid dysfunction can affect the rest of the body. Some of the most prevalent thyroid issues include:
Hyperthyroidism, also known as an overactive thyroid, is a common form of thyroid disease affecting about 1 in 100 Americans over 12. The condition occurs when the thyroid produces excess thyroid hormone. This can cause a variety of symptoms, including:
- Mood swings
- Sensitivity to heat
- Weight loss
- Heart palpitations
If left untreated, hyperthyroidism can lead to severe consequences, such as eye problems or a life-threatening thyroid storm.
Hypothyroidism occurs when an underactive thyroid fails to produce adequate thyroid hormone levels. The American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC) suggests that normal thyroid stimulating hormone values range from 0.4 to 4 milli–international units per liter (mIU/L). Values significantly lower than this found in a blood panel may indicate hypothyroidism.
Approximately 5 in 100 Americans have an underactive thyroid, though the condition goes unnoticed or untreated in many cases. In other cases, it is caused by treatments for an overactive thyroid, thyroid cancer, or an immune disorder. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Lethargy or exhaustion
- Weight gain
- Sensitivity to cold
- Dry hair and skin
- Muscle aches
Autoimmune Thyroid Disorders
There are two thyroid-related autoimmune disorders: Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Grave’s Disease. Hashimoto’s Disease is more common, affecting between 1-2% of the population. It is also the most common cause of hypothyroidism.
In individuals with Hashimoto’s Disease, the immune system produces antibodies, which attack the thyroid gland. As a result, white blood cells accumulate in the thyroid, which causes damage and reduces the gland’s ability to produce thyroid hormone.
Grave’s Disease affects almost 1 in 100 Americans and is the leading cause of hyperthyroidism, causing approximately 80% of all overactive thyroid cases. Like Hashimoto’s Disease, Grave’s Disease is also an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack the thyroid. The primary difference between the two conditions is that Grave’s Disease causes the thyroid to overproduce thyroid hormone.
Thyroid dysfunction can cause solid or fluid-filled lumps to form on the gland. Though over 85% of thyroid nodules are non-cancerous, thyroid cancer still affects approximately 45,000 Americans yearly, and its primary symptom is thyroid lumps. Anaplastic thyroid cancer is the most aggressive type, though it only accounts for 2% of thyroid cancers.
When to See a Thyroid Specialist
With many thyroid conditions, symptoms may be mild or undetectable before they become more serious. To keep yourself healthy, see a thyroid specialist if you experience any of the following:
You Recognize Symptoms of a Thyroid Condition
If you are experiencing thyroid dysfunction symptoms, you should see a thyroid specialist immediately. Some of the most common symptoms include unexplained weight gain or loss, fatigue, a lack of appetite, or mood issues. These symptoms can become more severe as the condition progresses.
You Notice Your Thyroid is Large or Find a Lump on Your Neck
You can develop thyroid cancer even if you don’t have a thyroid condition. As a result, it is essential to monitor your thyroid for lumps, which can be cancerous. An enlarged thyroid, a goiter, is a common sign of hypothyroidism.
You can check your thyroid by gently palpating the base of your throat for asymmetries or lumps. However, small lumps can be challenging to find. Visit your primary care physician for a referral to an endocrinologist who can more accurately diagnose any thyroid abnormalities.
You Are Pregnant or Planning to Become Pregnant
The thyroid and the hormones it produces play a large role in pregnancy. If you are pregnant, your hormone levels will need to be closely monitored by your primary care doctor or OB-GYN and treated by an endocrinologist if they are abnormal.
You Experience a Thyroid Storm
You may experience a potentially life-threatening condition called a thyroid storm if you have untreated hyperthyroidism. A thyroid storm is caused by a significant overproduction of thyroid hormone, causing a sudden and extreme onset of symptoms.
You may experience a heart rate of over 140 beats per minute and a high fever, among other symptoms. If this happens, you should get to a hospital immediately; delaying treatment can be deadly.
Visit Associated Endocrinologists for an Assessment
Thyroid issues can cause serious complications; despite this, many people who suffer from these conditions are unaware of them. As a result, it is vital to monitor your thyroid health and watch for symptoms of a thyroid condition. If treated promptly, most thyroid issues can be controlled.
The clinical endocrinologists at Associated Endocrinologists are Board Certified in Endocrinology and Metabolism. They have authored or edited over 100 medical journal articles and have received awards from numerous endocrinology societies.
In addition to state-of-the-art diagnostics like fine-needle aspiration biopsies, we offer cutting-edge thyroid treatments, like thyroid radiofrequency ablation and nuclear medicine. So you can rest assured that you will receive the best possible treatment for your condition.
If you think your thyroid may be dysfunctional, call Associated Endocrinologists today to schedule a consultation.